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PHE accused of 'double standards' over Cafferkey case


Public Health England has been accused of having “double standards” by the former head of the Royal College of Nursing who claimed the body has failed to offer a full explanation about why it referred ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey to the regulator.

Last month Ms Cafferkey was cleared of all charges of misconduct at a Nursing and Midwifery Council fitness to practise hearing.

“Either PHE reject the criticism that things were shambolic and explain why, or they accept the criticism and apologise”

Peter Carter

The nurse, who contracted ebola while working to fight the virus in Sierra Leone in 2014, was investigated over suggestions she concealed her illness from PHE officials during screening at London Heathrow airport when she returned to the UK.

During the NMC hearing, the airport screening area was said to be “busy, disorganised and even chaotic”, while media reports have also claimed it was described as “shambolic”.

Former RCN chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter has called for a full explanation from PHE about whether it acknowledged that its system for screening health professionals at the airport was indeed “shambolic”.

He noted Ms Cafferkey could have lost her reputation and job if she had been found guilty of misconduct by the NMC as a result of the charges put forward by PHE.

Dr Carter questioned who regulated PHE and accused the body of issuing a “bland statement” following the case’s conclusion which did not address the concerns raised about its screening arrangements.

He also called for a full explanation from PHE about whether it had conducted any internal investigation into the allegations against Ms Cafferkey before referring the case to the NMC.

“If Pauline had been found guilty she may have not only lost her reputation, she could have lost her livelihood”

Peter Carter

He said it was in the public interest for the body to provide these details because healthcare professionals who volunteer in the future would expect for there to be adequate screening systems in place.

“The fact that the arrangements at Heathrow had been described as shambolic warrants an explanation from PHE in the way that Pauline Cafferkey was asked to explain herself,” said Dr Carter during a debate on nursing regulation at London South Bank University last night.

“Either Public Health England reject the criticism that things were shambolic and explain why, or they accept the criticism, apologise to Pauline and apologise to the public because the implication is de facto the arrangements were shambolic for people returning from Sierra Leone, the public at large could be at risk,” he said.

Nt editorial peter carter

Nt editorial peter carter

Peter Carter

“If Pauline had been found guilty she may have not only lost her reputation, she could have lost her livelihood. It really does smack of double standards,” he added.

Referring to the criticism aimed at the NMC for its decision to investigate the case, Dr Carter added this was “unjustified”. “I do not for one moment criticise the NMC for investigating the matter brought to their attention,” he said.

A spokeswoman for PHE said it would be inappropriate for it to comment about the processes surrounding the screening due to ongoing hearings, but pointed to the NMC’s statement made following the conclusion of Ms Cafferkey’s hearing.

It stated that PHE’s referral “showed a highly unusual set of circumstances” that “clearly required a thorough and proper investigation” and noted it was “right for an independent panel to hear all the evidence to decide if any action is required”.


Readers' comments (13)

  • Peter Carter is right! As I have suggested in previous comments. If someone has to be called to account, because something has gone wrong it is often the professional seen as being least likely to afford the most effective defence.
    On many occasions this will be a nurse, standing alone, without a Responsible Medical Officer to be found. Sad that; and very disappointing.

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  • My concern with this case is how much one patient has cost the NHS!
    Patients are dying every day because they cannot get specialised drugs fro rare illnesses, operations are being cancelled due to the lack of funds, care is being cut due to lack of funds yet this woman, who chose to go to the country where she got the disease, gets all the care she needs, regardless of cost to the NHS!

    She chose to go abroad, knowing the risks she still went, other folk deprived of life saving care did not choose to have their rare illness's or cancers, yet they are left to die simply due to the cost of life saving saving treatment.


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  • michael stone

    'Dr Carter questioned who regulated PHE and accused the body of issuing a “bland statement” following the case’s conclusion which did not address the concerns raised about its screening arrangements'

    It isn't just the PHE which issues 'bland and uninformative statements' - I suspect the RCN will have also done that.

    But Peter Carter is right [and interestingly pointing out the obvious after retiring from his RCN role] in that the details of exactly how 'shambolic' or otherwise the screening was, are pretty fundamental here. Although the obvious question is a simple one - Pauline's successful defence seemed to be that she was already very ill and 'not thinking very clearly' when she was screened at the airport, so 'how come that wasn't noticed ?'.

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS 8 OCTOBER, 2016 10:50 AM

    Your argument is really interesting, logically and ethically.

    There is I think a 'general acceptance' that the developed world should help the poorer parts of the world, and sending doctors and nurses to such medical crises is a common response. In this case, it can also be argued that if Ebola reached the UK, having clinicians available who had treated the illness in Africa would help the NHS to respond more effectively.

    But you are also correct to point out that NHS resources spent on treating Pauline, cannot also be used to treat other NHS patients: so 'where does sense and fairness rest in this ?'. I don't know - this is hugely difficult.

    And there is a 'political aspect' to this - politicians typically tend to describe clinicians who risk their own lives to help people during 'crises' as 'heroic'.

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  • I have commented on NMC hearings before.
    There seems to be no checks and balances protecting nursing staff and therefore the NMC is misused.
    I suggest the following
    1. if a nurse is found to have nothing to answer the referring agency or individual foots the bill of the investigation, in the above PHE.This may even decrease our annual fee to the NMC.
    2. the nurse receives compensation for unnecessary stress and anxiety caused by the whole process including any loss of earnings.
    3.I have no time for the above crassly absurd statement regarding nursing staff utilising their skills abroad. Risks abound in nursing everywhere. It is like saying a Nigerian nurse should not work in the NHS and it would be that nurses fault if he/she is thumped by a drunk in A and E.

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  • I wish to make another suggestion
    As above PHE made charges against a nurse. Are we as nurses therefore automatically criminalised by the whole process. Isnt it time this was changed to complaints?

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  • for those who condemn the money in treating Pauline should ask themselves do they have the right to deny her treat ment. if a soldier got wounded no one who deny or complain about that, I think is a disgrace NHSE felt the need to pick on her

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  • As a nurse who has been investigated by the NMC as a result of a malicious complaint, with an outcome of no case to answer after an excruciating process, I agree with everything Richard Stone says. As far as the comment regarding not treating Pauline, I am appalled that someone could even consider it. If a tourist had a car accident whilst in UK, would we deny treatment on the grounds that if they hadn't come to the UK, it wouldn't have happened?! Of course not. Not just a ludicrous comment but a cruel and unnecessary one.

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  • 8 OCTOBER, 2016 10:50 AM

    what about the costs of not providing the help and expenditure required, by those who have the means, and just leaving the disease to spread to those who did not chose it? Would that not be disgraceful?

    Would you just leave healthcare workers or anyone else who gets sick from an infectious disease and allow its spread and leave them to detiorate with great suffering and die knowing effective treatments are available? Even if you chose the latter course there is still a legal duty of care also requiring very costly resources.

    Please note each and every case, such as that above, advances research by providing vital information which can aid towards seeking more effective preventative measures, treatments and ways to help reduce its spread.

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    You condone views expressed in this comment? Read some of the other responses, from nurses!

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